retirement

10 bits of financial advice for millennials

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Woman sitting on the floor, leaning against the wall | Kupicoo/Getty Images

Kupicoo/Getty Images

Managing money is generally not taught in elementary school. About 17 states require students to take a personal finance course in high school, but only a handful require testing on the topic, according to the Council for Economic Education.

When it comes to money, it's better to learn from other people's mistakes than to make your own. Follow these tips when you're young to avoid financial hardship in life.

1. Go to college

You may want to do something that doesn't require a college degree, such as playing professional golf. But give serious consideration to enrolling in college anyway. Yes, it's a major investment, but if your parents are unable to help you pay for it, make it happen yourself, even if it means taking out loans. Just don't get in over your head; try to borrow no more than the amount you expect to earn the 1st year after graduation. That way you can pay off the loans within 10 years. One way to save on costs: Go to a community college first; then transfer to a 4-year university after 2 years.

It's easier to get a degree when you're young than when you have a home, family and all the attendant adult responsibilities. Your earnings potential increases significantly with a college degree -- which will come in handy if your other dreams don't materialize. Plus, you will likely experience a love of learning that you will never outgrow.

2. Find your purpose

If you're having trouble figuring out what you want to do with your life, look within. You were born with certain talents and natural abilities. You know which subjects you excel in and which ones you struggle with. Choose a career that enables you to maximize your gifts in a way that fulfills you or helps others. As you grow, your career may change along with your desires. But for now, gravitate toward a field that feels like home.

3. Begin retirement planning with your 1st job

This tip is so important. If the company you work for offers a 401(k) plan, sign up at your 1st opportunity. If there's no such plan, divert some of your paycheck into an IRA. Believe it or not, if you're lucky, one day you'll find you are older, so it's best to be prepared. Setting up automatic contributions to either one of these retirement vehicles at a young age will help you build wealth painlessly.

Naturally, the more you earn, the more you can stash. Sock away at least 7% of your earnings in the beginning, and increase it each year until you're diverting 15% a year.

4. Place a value on money

It doesn't buy happiness, but it can certainly make you comfortable. Just understand what it's worth. Money is what you earn in exchange for your time in some productive pursuit. Let's say you earn $20 an hour at your job, and you're considering purchasing a TV for $500. You may calculate that you spend 25 hours, or about 3 days, earning that money. It's worth it, you may think. But that's not an accurate value estimate. If you're single, you're in the 25% tax bracket, so you actually spend about 33 hours earning the net income required to make the purchase. It still may be worth it, but there may be competing demands for that money, such as rent and car payments, not to mention your retirement fund. Each purchase represents a trade-off. Make these decisions wisely.

5. Use the credit card sparingly

This tip is also really vital. It's easy to spend now with plastic and much harder to pay later. Use credit responsibly. Comparison-shop for your card. Remember that you'll be relying on your future earnings to pay for today's credit card purchases. And if you keep a running balance, you'll also be paying interest, sometimes at usurious rates. Don't fall into this trap. Instead, save money to meet financial goals.

6. Follow the golden rule

Contrary to popular belief, the duplicity and craftiness of Machiavellian tactics won't really help you survive. Instead, they'll engender mistrust in your relationships. Treat others fairly, the way you wish to be treated. No one looks good when trying to make others look bad. When you're on the job, avoid gossip. Beware that when someone takes you into his or her confidence to point out someone else's foibles, it's only a matter of time before your foibles come to light.

7. Select your partner wisely

Choose someone whose values match your own -- not just where money is concerned, but more importantly, ethical and moral values. Get to know your soul mate over the course of at least a year. Passion is important, but trust even more so. Make sure you are free to be yourself. If you hook up with an angry or overly critical partner, you will be subjected to hostility and may lose your sense of self. Conversely, if you're the one with anger issues, resolve them before they poison a perfectly good relationship. Learn to make decisions with your heart, along with your head.

8. Be prepared for the unexpected

Someday you may lose a job through no fault of your own. Prepare today by stashing money into an accessible emergency fund. The easiest way to do this is to automatically divert a portion of your earnings into a savings account in addition to the amount you're contributing to a 401(k) plan or IRA.

Try not to use that 401(k) money for emergencies. It will cost you plenty, between income and penalty taxes. For instance, if you have $10,000 in your account and you're in the 25% tax bracket, you'll lose $2,500 to taxes, plus pay another $1,000 penalty for breaking into the money before you reach age 55. (For IRAs, the early withdrawal penalty applies up to age 59 1/2, with certain exceptions.) Bottom line: Your $10,000 dwindles to $6,500. Worse, you will have lost the opportunity for that money to compound and build wealth for your retirement.

9. Learn about investing or hire help

It's not rocket science; in the beginning you just need to overcome fear and select 1 or 2 good, cheap mutual funds. After you've amassed some wealth, it may be time to hire someone. If you do, you will obviously have to pay for the service. Get referrals and then check out the qualifications and credentials of a prospective financial adviser or broker.

Make sure you understand the fee structure of the services. Is it commission-based or do you pay an hourly fee or a percentage of assets or some combination of these fees? Ask for a complete breakdown. Also, check with the appropriate authority to see if any disciplinary actions have been taken against a certified financial planner or broker before you initiate contact. If you're confident enough to choose your own investments, you might find that going with a robo-adviser is the best bet.

10. Be thankful for your good fortune

It's not all about money. If you work at it, you will have abundance -- through strong family ties and solid relationships, as well as monetary assets. Take some time out each day to reflect on the good in your life. Spend at least 1 day a week in a recreational activity or hobby that you enjoy, and take a minimum 1-week vacation annually if you possibly can so you can totally unplug and unwind. Again, save for the trip.

If you have children, spend as much time as you can with them when they're still young and dependent on you. Before you know it, they'll be old enough to get a driver's license, and you'll see less and less of them from that point on.

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